Season Series: Sharks – 2-2-1 ; Kings – 3-1-1.
Keys to Winning for San Jose: The Sharks’ success will be completely dependent on their offense. Led by Joe Pavelski‘s 79 points and Joe Thornton‘s 65 assists, the Sharks enter the 2014 playoffs as the sixth-highest scoring team in the NHL and are going to have to continue to press hard in the offensive zone if they want to get pucks behind Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick. The Sharks have eight players who had over 30 points this season and finally get Tomas Hertl back, who had been out since December with an injury.
On the defensive end, it will be noteworthy whether or not the Sharks are able to continue to kill penalties at the rate in which they did during the regular season. Special teams always plays an imperative role in the playoffs, and the Sharks enter the postseason with the sixth-best penalty kill in the NHL. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi may be overshadowed by Quick, but he will play a crucial role in the series as well.
If the Sharks want to get by the Kings, they will need to continue to have a dominant forecheck and continue to kill penalties consistently.
Keys to Winning for Los Angeles: The biggest offensive threat on either end of the ice may be Anze Kopitar, who has once again shined with the Kings. He has 20 more points than anyone else on the Kings’ roster and will once again need to lead the troops if he wants another ring. The Kings are still out to prove that their Stanley Cup winning season from two years ago wasn’t a fluke, and in order to get by the Sharks, Kopitar will need to lead the way.
On the defensive end of the ice, Drew Doughty and Quick are the two most important pieces of the puzzle for Los Angeles. Doughty has continued to elevate his game since returning from Sochi with a gold medal, and he leads all of the Kings’ defensemen in points and plus-minus. Doughty’s presence will be noticeable all series long, but the only way the Kings make another deep run in the playoffs is if Quick is at his best. Without him, the Kings could have likely been eliminated by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of their Stanley Cup winning run. He is the heart and soul of the Kings but has been rattled by injuries all season.
Kopitar, Doughty and Quick are the three most important names for the Kings entering the 2014 playoffs.
Prediction: Kings in six.
Even though the Sharks enter the series with the better record and some may consider this an upset, the Kings are the better defensive team thanks to Doughty and Quick. If there is one thing that the past few years have shown us, it’s that defense wins championships. The Chicago Blackhawks may best be known for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford were just as important to their championship equation.